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Area writing regions divide to better aid participants

From left, Rebekah Postupak and Susan Warren Utley, municipal liaisons for National Novel Writing Month’s Shenandoah Valley region, and LaMishia Allen, ML for the new Winchester region, meet recently at Starbucks in Front Royal to talk about the annual November writing marathon. — Josette Keelor/Daily

Rebekah Postupak’s daughter Natalya, 7, far left, reads NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book, “No Plot? No Problem!,” and her son Joshua, 2, watches his mother type on her laptop. — Josette Keelor/Daily

By Josette Keelor --jkeelor@nvdaily.com

It's not even October yet, but already area novel writers know what they're going to do this November. For many, it's the same thing they do every year. They're going to write a 50,000-word novel, and they're going to do it in 30 days or fewer.

"This is my third year," said Rebekah Postupak, of Woodstock, "but I didn't finish my first one, and it's so hard to publish books when I haven't written any."

Her assertion, on a recent evening when she and fellow writers LaMishia Allen and Susan Warren Utley met at Starbucks in Front Royal to talk about the upcoming annual National Novel Writing Month, illustrates what writers who have participated in the month-long writing marathon have come to realize: Books don't write themselves.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to its friends, allows anyone who ever has said, "I'm going to write a novel -- one day" the chance to sit down with hundreds of thousands of other writers around the world and finally write that novel.

The novels will be bad, the non-profit organization's website, NaNoWriMo.org, assures. If even worth trying to resuscitate after November ends, the manuscripts likely will require a massive reconstruction effort of edits that could take much longer than the rough draft took to write.

"But even in my worst one," said Allen, of Winchester, "I know that there's a paragraph in there worth something."

She and Utley have participated for seven years now, for six of them as municipal liaisons. They are the ones who help shepherd other interested writers through the wilds of a month that inspires as much voluntary stress as it does creativity.

"I think my third year was my best," said Utley, of Front Royal. But, she added, "My first was my most complete."

"Last year, awful," she said. "Same character, all different genres."

This year, Postupak signed up as a third municipal liaison for the area. Now, she and Utley will share the Shenandoah Valley region, and Allen has begun a break-off Winchester region that also will include Clarke and Frederick counties and local West Virginia.

Other Virginia regions listed on the nonprofit organization's website include Northern Virginia, Richmond and Fredericksburg, but most of Virginia still is classified as "Virginia: Elsewhere."

When Utley and Allen formed the region, they intended to cover the Northern Shenandoah Valley. But they needed a name, so they called it Shenandoah Valley -- "And it went from Winchester to Roanoke," Allen said.

Overwhelmed by the volume of area under their care, Utley and Allen began recruiting residents from the Southern Shenandoah Valley to be points of contact for other writers in their area, "and it seemed to work," Utley said. Still, nearly every year, they had to find new recruits because their designates, mostly college students, would graduate and move on.

Ultimately Allen and Utley would like to have separate northern and southern valley regions.

"Having Winchester break off is a good move," Utley said. She, Postupak and Allen hope for a snowball effect that will inspire new regions in Lexington, Roanoke or Staunton.
For now, though, Utley and Postupak intend to promote writing events during and prior to November this year in Shenandoah and Warren counties and in Harrisonburg.
The regions are meant to unify area writers but also to better serve those who otherwise would have to drive a ways to attend a write-in, but the MLs stress that regions are not exclusive.

"It doesn't matter what region you're in," Utley said. Writers from Shenandoah may attend events in Winchester or in other regions, and vise versa.

The first NaNoWriMo event planned for the area will be a brainstorming event Oct. 1 beginning between 5:30 and 6 p.m. at the Bowman Library in Stephens City.

"You have to get your head prepared for this kind of stuff," Allen said. "Just in general, getting your mind into a creative space, if it's not already there."

This year, 200,000 writers are expected to participate in NaNoWriMo, according to a promotional poster the MLs received from the Office of Letters and Light. Children also may participate through the Young Writers Program. In 2011, the website says, over 42,000 children participated, and those under the age of 18 may choose their own word goal.

Some who take part in NaNoWriMo enjoy the spontaneity of the challenge, doing little in the way of planning before beginning their novels on Nov. 1; others need the security of outlining and developing their characters ahead of time. Each year pre-planning events pop up around the nation to inspire interest.

NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty wrote the book "No Plot? No Problem!" to help writers who might view the task of writing 50,000 words in only 30 days as impossible. Writing every day, the book assures, requires only 1,667 words a day, and, besides offering a history of NaNoWriMo, the book also provides tips and tricks for writing a novel in a month, such as not stopping to edit.

Allen, Utley and Postupak each own their own copy of Baty's book.

Utley, editor and publisher of Haunted Waters Press in Front Royal, usually writes southern Gothic novels for NaNoWriMo and assures that someone will die in her novel this year. Someone always does.

Allen, a social worker and photographer, normally writes about a lead female character but this year said she has been inspired by a male lead.

"I'm not sure what the actual story is," she said. "Mine is urban fantasy this year and it's set in South Africa."

She started out as a romance writer, so urban fiction will be an added challenge, she said.

"It makes me feel brave and adventurous for me to try something that's not in my comfort zone."

Postupak, a personal assistant and home school teacher, plans to bend the rules outlined on NaNoWriMo's website and, instead of beginning a novel from scratch, will add another 50,000 words to a novel she started two years ago.

She writes fantasy, she said, "Because all the best stories have dragons in them."

"I have been passionate about writing all my life," she said. When she joined NaNoWriMo, "I fell in love with the community."

NaNoWriMo, she said, "It changed writing for me."

She became an ML so she could give back.

Being an ML, she said, is like "Battling these same writing demons that we battle alone on a daily basis."

Find the right fit
• When: National Novel Writing Month runs from midnight Nov. 1 through 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30
Preplanning events will take place around the area throughout October.
• Where: The Winchester region includes Clarke and Frederick counties, and local West Virginia
The Shenandoah Valley region covers Shenandoah and Warren counties, and Harrisonburg
Members from any region are welcome to attend either or both.
• Guidelines: Participants should begin a new work of fiction no sooner than Nov. 1 and complete 50,000 words on or before Nov. 30.
Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org.
For more information about the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester regions, find Shenandoah Valley & Winchester Wrimos on Facebook.

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